China Threatens Hostage Diplomacy

John David

CounterCurrent: Week of 10/18


As American education, law enforcement, and congressional leadership become more aggressive in curbing Chinese government influence in U.S. colleges and universities, a corresponding backlash has ensued. Some of these responses have been rather predictable: investigating suspected CCP spies is racist, closing Confucius Institutes impedes “honest cultural exchange,” and America, not China, is instigating tensions with a “Cold War mentality.” 

All of these criticisms ignore the simple fact that the CCP continues to (1) propagandize countless students through Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms and (2) engage in wholesale research theft through the Thousand Talents Plan (TTP) and other so-called “talent-recruitment programs.” It has done so for well over a decade and only benefits from many American leaders’ continual naivete—or blissful ignorance—of the true extent of the problem. 

Those that do recognize this pressing danger are sounding the alarm, and in some cases, making arrests. They realize that no amount of “research collaboration” or “cultural exchange” is worth opening our doors to rampant communist propaganda, research theft, and dark money. We are beginning to restore transparency and academic integrity in American higher education, and China isn’t happy to see its knots of influence unravelled.

Case in point: over the weekend, Chinese government officials warned that it may begin detaining Americans as retaliation for U.S. actions against Chinese influence, reports the Wall Street Journal. Their crime? The CCP will figure that part out. As Kate O’Keeffe and Aruna Viswanatha write, “The Chinese message, the people said, has been blunt: The U.S. should drop prosecutions of the Chinese scholars in American courts, or Americans in China might find themselves in violation of Chinese law.”

The CCP is no stranger to hostage diplomacy, a practice that is much more indicative of a “Cold War mentality” of which American officials are accused. In this week’s featured article, Bradley J. Murg of The Diplomat argues that this strategy will likely hurt, not help, Beijing in the long run. He writes, 

It has been argued that Beijing views the United States as weak and hopelessly divided – opening space for China to assume a commanding role on the global stage. Ironically, targeting Americans in a further expansion of hostage diplomacy could very well achieve the exact opposite: a more unified U.S. (albeit one with substantial domestic political disagreements) and a new White House locked into an ever more aggressive containment strategy.

China has officially upped the ante, and it’s now our turn to respond. Will a new White House pursue this “aggressive containment strategy” as Murg predicts? Or will we allow these threats to intimidate us into silence and inaction? Much is at stake and time is of the essence.


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Administrative Associate John David. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Executive Office of the President of the United States, Public Domain

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